- courtesy Josh Engler
I listened to a few tracks, and I was immediately blown away by the level of production and the crisp mix of indie-pop and alternative-R&B. This wasn’t the average, teenage, lo-fi garage pop I was used to hearing out of the 2-1-0 lately.
This shit slapped.
Punctuated by hi-hat glitches, layered synths, R&B grooves and soulful indie-pop vocals, this was, by far, the best collection of pop music I've heard from San Antonio.
“Who is this dude?” I thought to myself, before cracking my knuckles, hunching over my laptop and launching into a full-on detective search to track down Engler. It only took a few minutes for me to discover that, much to my suspicion, the EP called It’s a Wonderful Life isn't his first rodeo.
The singer has already put in a lot of miles in the music industry, most of which were logged with his former band Abandon, also from San Antonio.
Blending elements of post-rock, alternative and modern-day worship music, Abandon got its start in 2002, playing in church and at local shows, before getting picked up by a label that launched them into the gigantic Christian music market.
In 2006, the band landed an opening spot on a tour with the Newsboys, arguably the world's biggest contemporary Christian group (think the Metallica of alt-Christian rock). Engler left a few years later to take on lead vocal duties for Audio Adrenaline, another big name on the Christian music circuit, before ultimately calling it quits due to the stresses of constant touring.
I was intrigued enough that I hit up Engler for an interview to see what led him to reemerge performing in this new style.
Turns out, what had once been a passion in his life had transformed into unbearable job. It left a bad taste in his mouth and sense of bewilderment where he should go career-wise.
“When you put most of your life into one thing: all of your energy, blood sweat and tears, years and all the miles on the road — which was Abandon … I just went through an identity crisis,” Engler said.
Engler explained that being signed in the late-aughts, during America's economic downturn, forced the label to push his band into constant touring. That led to feelings of frustration and overwork. And even during the biggest tour of his career, with the aforementioned Newsboys, Engler had already checked out mentally.
“I was grateful for the opportunity, but I was done in my mind, just not wanting to do the grind anymore,” Engler said. “And so I decided to call it quits … I dropped it all and didn’t want to have anything to do with music. I didn’t even want to write another song, and at that point I was just ready to be completely done.
"Music hurt me.”
After stepping away from recording for almost seven years, Engler in 2017 wrote “Philosophy.” That became the first of the songs that ended up on It’s a Wonderful Life. A woman visiting Engler's church suggested that he probably would write music again, and that proved to be the catalyst, the extra push, that convinced him to resume his lost passion.
“['Philosophy'] kind of sparked the concept of the whole EP, thematically and lyrically,” Engler said. “This was sort of the vein I wanted to go with: I see life in a new way. I have redefined it. Life is really wonderful, even with all the pain and sorrow that we experience, and maybe that’s actually supposed to be a part of it.”
While it might be safe to assume, based on Engler's background, that this EP would be full of Christian themes, it's not. Armed with a bleeding-edge R&B/pop soundtrack, It’s a Wonderful Life is a journey back to root of who Engler is: the inner artist, the kid-version of himself that first fell in love with music. Ultimately, that may compel the listener to remember what they loved before they grew up.
It’s a Wonderful Life is available on Bandcamp but officially releases on all streaming platforms Friday, March 1.
Follow Engler on Facebook for updates on shows, future releases and tour information.